When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin — O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross I and I bear it not more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:
The trumpet shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.
The words to this old hymn were written 143 years ago, as you might tell by the older language. They were penned by a Chicago lawyer named Horatio Spafford. He was something of a success in the legal world of his day and became quite wealthy. He had a wife and five children, four daughters and a son.
In the winter of 1871, his only son died. In the spring and summer of that year, Horatio invested heavily in real estate around the shore of Lake Michigan. That summer, a long drought gripped the city. As the summer broke into fall, the city of Chicago, built almost entirely out of wood, was parched. On October 8th the unimaginable happened — fire broke out and went uncontrolled for three days, ravaging the city. Horatio's investments literally went up in smoke.
Two years later in 1873, the family planned a European trip to help ease the lingering grief. As the day approached to board the transatlantic ship, a business crises prohibited Horatio from leaving with his wife and four daughters. He quickly made plans to follow a few days later on another ship. As the business crisis was coming to an end he got word that the ship carrying his wife and daughters had been hit by another ship and sunk within 12 minutes. Later when the few survivors were taken to Wales he received a cable from his wife. It simply read, "Saved alone."
Spafford took the next available passage and traveled alone to meet his wife. The journey across the ocean no doubt was filled with sorrow and despair. The captain notified Horatio when their ship arrived at the approximate location of the disaster. On deck, looking out over the infinite landscape of water Spafford is said to have penned the words of this hymn.
I first heard the story of Horatio Spafford many years ago as a young follower of Jesus. The traditional church I was a part of sang this hymn often. Knowing the background of the how this hymn came to be has always created an awe within me. The first stanza has left a wonder that such a faith would be available to one who endures life's tragedies.
It seems to me to be a testimony of a thankful heart. Thankful, not for the tragic circumstances, but thankful because of a deeper confidence that God is present in all of our circumstances.
This is Thanksgiving week. As a nation we set aside Thanksgiving day to stop the normal routine and give thanks. My life's pilgrimage has had its little bits of crisis, nothing compared to Spafford's, but still they often felt like sea billows rolling. I am learning to have confidence in God such that, every once in a while, I truly sense the peace of Christ and can say, 'it is well with my soul.'
I pray you will enjoy your Thanksgiving Day this year however you get to celebrate. I'm grateful for you, that you would actually read through this little note, but also that your interest in continuing to follow Jesus and be transformed by the Spirit is like a light set on a hill for the community around you.